On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel

On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel - Tony Cohan This is one of those expatriot memoirs where an American or Brit pulls up stakes to live la bella vita--or the simpler life--in some warm clime. Think Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun or Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, usually told oh so lyrically, eruditely, with lots of literary allusions and mentions of mouth-watering cuisine. I’ve been reading through a recommendation list of such travel writing--this was the last--and I suppose my reaction to this one might be put down to having become rather jaded and cranky reading one after another. The blurbs of reviews inside claim Cohan is a better, more gifted writer than you usually see in these travelogues, and call his prose “vivid,” “elegant,” “poetic” and the inevitable, “lyrical.” It boasts the present tense that is the insignia of the literati, rather choppy prose given lots of sentence fragments and short, declarative sentences, and sports such lines as: “Dew drops quiver on the spiky tips of barrel cacti in the glimmering dawn.” I’m afraid reading I often felt suffocated by perfume. The style was possibly my biggest problem with this book--far, far too flowery for my tastes. There also was something about Cohan’s sensibility that grated on me. There often is an implied insult to expatriot tales if you’re from the country fled from, but in that respect this was the worst among the dozen or so I have read. I took umbrage at the description of New York City, and particularly the Columbia University area, which I know well. He claimed his daughter lived in an apartment on 110th Street infested with “rats and roaches.” (Rats? Mice and roaches I’d believe--was she living in a crack house?) And the neighborhood was filled with “Bums and muggers, rappers and dopeheads.” A lot more dire than I’d describe it, and given the exaggeration about a place I know well, I suspected Cohan felt he had to trash America in order to paint Mexico in this much more idyllic light. It’s a subtle distinction perhaps, but I remember Mayes, for instance, as showing Italy’s appeal without sounding like she felt a need to feel superior to America and its “consumerism” and yet at the same time with Cohan there’s a patronizing streak towards Mexico evident to me at times. Yet I continued reading beyond the 100-page mark, because I found interesting reading a description of Mexico. It’s a country Americans should know and understand better than we do, and Cohan did weave in bits of in the history and culture of the land he’s residing in, even if I never felt he quite left the lifestyle and mindset of a tourist. And if I sometimes felt he romanticized life in a third world country, at least he wasn’t completely unaware of his privileged status. But if I had to describe in one word the way Cohan came across to me, it would be: smug.